In the 30s, 40s and 50s Dulcie Markham was the prettiest and most notorious woman in Australia’s underworld. Nearly all of her criminal lovers died violently after jousting with the jinx.
In 1934 she married hoodlum Frank Bowen. The marriage only lasted a couple of years but they remained friends until he was shot dead in Kings Cross in 1940. She left Bowen to move in with underworld figure Alfred Dillon but was soon having an affair with 21 year old Scotty McCormack. Dillon stabbed him to death and was sentenced to 13 years for manslaughter. As he was led from the dock he shouted out to Dulcie that he would always love her.
Her next lover, Arthur Taplin was shot dead at the Cosmopolitan in 1937. After that she took up with mobster Guido Calleti who was shot at a Kings Cross party in 1939. No one was ever convicted and he was given the most spectacular gangster funeral in Sydney’s history. Dulcie did not attend although she had been there to weep over the body as it lay in a Darlinghurst funeral parlour.
In 1940 she took up with Melbourne criminal John Abrahams who was shot dead outside a twoup school that same year. She promptly moved in with another well known gangster who was arrested a month later for Abraham’s murder.
The war years meant big earnings for prostitutes and Dulcie was no exception. Unlike others in her trade, her name was well known to the public as she was constantly in trouble such as the time she was arrested on a Melbourne Street clad only in panties and brandishing an axe at a client who argued about her fee.
Her reputation grew through the 1940s when two of her former admirers Donald “the Duck” Day and Leslie “Scotland Yard” Walkerden were murdered.
In 1951 she was drinking with friends when gunmen burst through the door and shot dead one of her companions and left Dulcie with a bullet in her hip. Below is an excerpt from an article by Brian Matthews detailing what happened next
The most famous resident of Fawkner Street was ‘Pretty Dulcie’ Markham, a gangster’s moll who married one Leonard ‘Redda’ Lewis in her Fawkner Street house. This was a doubly significant date for ‘Redda’. Not only was it the day of his delight, it was also the last of the seven days the local police had given him to get out of St Kilda. The occasion was attended by numbers of uniformed and plain-clothes state functionaries who, sensitive to the holiness of the proceedings, remained shadowy in their cars while thoughtfully blocking off both ends of the road.
About a month earlier, Pretty Dulcie’s Fawkner Street residence had been the scene of a very different ceremony during which ex-boxer, Gavan Walsh, was shot dead, his brother, Desmond, was injured and Pretty Dulcie herself copped a bullet in the hip. The matrimonial legacy of this was that the bride was able to set off her outfit with a white cast on one leg. She and ‘Redda’ were married in the very room where Gavan Walsh got his, which prompted a Truth reporter to ask, with the refined punctilio for which that paper was known, if she had any qualms about mixing marriage and violent death.
‘Not a fuckin’ one,’ said the bride.
Pretty Dulcie was not one for the niceties either of language or behaviour. My Aunt Tilly, walking out behind Dulcie from the ladies’ toilet of the Middle Park Hotel one afternoon and having no idea at the time who she was dealing with, noticed that Dulcie’s dress was accidentally hooked up at the back. Helpfully, my aunt flicked the offending bit down for her, whereupon, before a word of explanation could be offered, Pretty Dulcie turned and intimated her gratitude by saying, ‘You lay a finger on me again and I’ll have the boys break your fuckin’ arms.’ To which she added a number of other recommendations very difficult to carry out, even if Tilly had had the slightest idea what they meant.”
Yet again the union didn’t last, her new husband was shot on two different occasions by unknown assailants and they split up after 18 months. In 1955, after an argument with a visitor, Dulcie was thrown from the top floor of a block of flats in Bondi. Hospitalised with fractured ribs and internal injuries, she maintained she had ‘fallen down some stairs’.
Eventually Dulcie married again, living happily with her third husband until she died in 1976 in a fire caused by smoking in bed. Her husband told reporters “I loved her deeply, she was a wonderful housewife”.